A dozen or so years ago, the Cleveland Bar Association started a great program that sent lawyers into inner city classrooms to teach kids about The Constitution. It was a fitting compliment to my work defending the poor, and a welcome departure from often depressing role as advocate for the criminally accused in a crowded, chaotic court system. Of course, inner-city schools in Cleveland have their own crowded, chaotic problems, but I was eager to see if I could spark the students' interest in the law as a haven, rather than a hammer.
I was assigned to JFK High School, a school with a rougher reputation than most. The student body was all black, all poor, and their familiarity with the criminal justice system was haunting: moms and dads arrested, incarcerated, churned through the courts at an alarming rate. But most of the kids I taught were eager and respectful as I tried to educate them about their constitutional rights, and the mechanics of the criminal justice system.
Early on in the series of my weekly appearances for the class, I made a deal with them. If, for the final session, anyone accurately memorized and recited the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, I'd give them twenty bucks. I added that those who took the bet would have to "dress professionally, like a lawyer" for their recitation.
When the final session arrived, I had a couple hundred bucks in my pocket, just in case. Ultimately, it was the best $60 I've ever spent, to this day. The three who tried and succeeded looked more like they were dressed for junior prom than court, but I was moved by their effort, and hearing them eagerly, clearly recite the words from The Bill of Rights interrupted my composure.
Later, I would learn that this preposterous stunt of mine gained legs. The bar association programmers found out, and decided to incorporate a "public performance" component to the project. The following year, two girls who took my $20 bucks would be invited to a luncheon at Cleveland's Intercontinental Hotel to sit at a table with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
I imagine a conversation occurred, in which the Honorable man, knifing his chicken and green beans, asked what notoriety gained them their auspicious seating. Perhaps, mid swallow, one of the girls informed him: "Mr. Hurley paid us twenty bucks to memorize the Fourth Amendment."